When David Tran started Huy Fong Foods — most famous for their Sriracha Hot Sauce — in 1980, he needed fresh red peppers. There were plenty of green jalapenos in California, but they were not the right color for sriracha. However, jalapenos “naturally ripen to a bright red hue,” writes Sarah Lohman in Eight Flavors, and the only reason they’re not more common is because it’s cheaper to harvest the peppers earlier, while they’re still green. Tran began buying red overstock from jalapeno producers, and eventually set up with Underwood Ranchers to exclusively produce ripe, red jalapenos, in what was a mutually beneficial, and eventually profitable, partnership.
However, due to competing lawsuits between Huy Fong and Underwood Ranches, it seems Huy Fong has stopped using Underwood peppers in its sauces. Huy Fong filed a lawsuit against Underwood in 2017, alleging they owe $1.46 million plus interest for not refunding an overpayment. But Underwood says Huy Fong owes them $20 million, for costs incurred while preparing the 2017 crop before the partnership ended.
In 2014, about 75 percent of Underwood Ranches’ revenue came from its arrangement with Huy Fong, and they produced 100 million pounds of peppers a year. Court documents say the two companies had a “partly oral, partly written and partly established by the parties’ practice,” whereby Underwood would estimate the year’s production costs, Huy Fong would pay in installments, and they’d settle any discrepancies at the end of the year. And while Huy Fong says Underwood hasn’t refunded them for an overpayment, Underwood says Huy Fong breached contract by forcing them to lay off staff, among other accusations.
The two face off in court this week, but to make matters pettier, Underwood came out with its own sriracha sauce, and has passive-aggressively tweeted “Without Underwood’s pepper, it’s just another condiment.” Huy Fong responded to the launch by tweeting #teamhuyfong, and writing on Instagram that “Underwood expects HF to pay back the ‘golden goose’ that they themselves killed.”
“The Pepper Makes the Product”™ Our peppers are the key ingredients to our spicy products. From jalapeños & cascabellas to serranos & Anaheims - 100% grown in California on our ranches in Ventura & Kern Counties. Without Underwood’s pepper, it’s just another condiment. #sriracha pic.twitter.com/0F0ga0ypMP— Underwood Ranches (@URanches) January 11, 2019
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"The chili peppers HF had been receiving in the past was supplied only by one grower, Underwood Ranches, for the past 28 years. In 2017, Underwood Ranches, who had made high profits with its relationship with HF, decided to stop growing chili peppers for HF without any warning. In 2018, Underwood Ranches came out with their own Sriracha Sauce but is suing HF for damages in excess of $20 million dollars. Underwood expects HF to pay back the "golden goose" that they themselves killed. Trial date is set in Ventura, CA for April 29, 2019."
Eater reached out to Huy Fong regarding where their peppers are coming from now, or whether they’re still working off previous Underwood stock. But some on social media say it’s not the same: “New siraccha [sic] tastes like crap without the Underwood peppers” wrote one person on Huy Fong’s Instagram. Well, that’s one opinion.
- Sriracha showdown: Huy Fong to see its former Ventura County chili grower in court this week [San Gabriel Valley Tribune]
- Watch: How Sriracha is Made [E]